Canadian battle honours commemorate, inspire, and serve as a reminder

Commander of the Canadian Corps, Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie, inspecting German guns captured in the Amiens offensive, August, 1918. Credit: Department of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada

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By Carl Kletke, Assistant Heritage Officer, Directorate of History and Heritage

For the first time, the entire array and story behind each First World War Canadian battle honours can be found online:

Battle honours are awarded to provide public recognition and to record a combatant unit’s active participation in battle against a formed and armed enemy. The Canadian Armed Forces battle honours system draws on the rich heritage of the British forces. Prior to Confederation, British authorities were responsible for the awarding of battle honours to Canadian units. After Confederation, the Canadian Militia decided on and allocated honours to its own regiments. Award conditions have evolved from time to time to cater to circumstances presented by each war. The basic principle has remained constant: public commemoration of a battle or campaign, the memory of which will be a constant source of pride for the unit involved.

Battle honours commemorate heroic victories such as Vimy, 1917, and terrible defeats such as Dieppe, 1942. They honour obscure actions such as Eccles Hill, 1870, and historic milestones, such as Normandy, 1944. What they have in common is a remembrance of past service, faithfully discharged by Canadian units. They are thus highly prized by these units, and are used as an inspiration to their members to emulate the valiant deeds that resulted in their award.

The majority of these battle honours are just that: they are named for a specific action at a particular time and place. However, the list also includes theatre honours, which can span an entire campaign and cover large geographic areas. These are important because they cover the service of small detachments and minor actions that are too small to merit the granting of a traditional battle honour.

Ships of the Royal Canadian Navy display their honours on a battle honour board (traditionally made of teak, which does not rot). Naval honours are awarded to the ship by name, and are thus perpetuated by ships of the same name even though these successor ships may be of an entirely different size, type, or function.

Canadian Army units whose role is to engage with the enemy, that is, armour and infantry, may be awarded battle honours. Units of artillery and engineers carry a single honour “Ubique”, Latin for “everywhere”. This is in recognition of their essential role in all of the army’s military engagements. The special operations unit Joint Task Force 2 also carries “Ubique” as an honour in the same way and for the same reason.

Squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force carry their honours on their “squadron standards.” These are silk flags that carry the squadron badge, number, and any battle honours awarded. Due to changes in equipment and role, squadrons are frequently activated and deactivated. The squadron number, badge, and honours thus become a source of heritage and continuity for these units.

Descriptions of the honours earned in other wars will be added to this website in the coming months.

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